Health ministers from APEC member economies aim to strengthen global and domestic preparedness for the next pandemic through international and regional collaboration, and partnerships to improve the health and wealth of people in the Asia-Pacific.
Gathering in Bangkok for APEC Health Week for their first physical meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic, ministers kicked off the two-day meeting with a high-level conversation yesterday on balancing health and the economy.
“The lengthy lockdowns during COVID have led some economies to collapse,” said Anutin Charnvirakul, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Thailand, “while the too-relaxed approach and negligence on health issues have also caused avoidable losses in some others.”
Minister Anutin led an initial discussion among six panelists: Health Minister Ong Ye Kung of Singapore; Andrea Palm, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services; Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat; Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; and Health Minister Budi G. Sadikin of Indonesia, who moderated.
Each panelist was invited to highlight the interconnection between health and wealth; expound on the health challenges the Asia-Pacific region has been facing; and their insight, vision and direct experiences in fighting the pandemic.
“The repercussions of the pandemic-its socioeconomic impact in a broad range of sectors, including economic growth-required a multisectoral, whole-of-society approach to pandemic prevention, preparedness and response and recovery,” Minister Anutin said. “We connect the dots between health and economy, between governments and citizens, between public and private sectors.”
APEC Executive Director, Dr Sta Maria, noted over the course of the conversation that the business community was in fact quick to call for official action when COViD-19 was declared a pandemic. Their concerns were focused on trade facilitation and resumption of travel.
“In response to the call by the business community the officials proceeded to pivot and change,” she said.
She added that addressing the crisis took a “whole-of-APEC approach,” considering that an effective response necessitated the manufacture and distribution of vaccines and other goods around the region.
Dr Sta Maria said, “trade policy and trade facilitation, it is not just the responsibility of trade policy-makers but also customs and other entities in order to get the goods moving across borders.”
“Customs work on the Best Practice Guidelines for APEC Customs Administration was crucial in facilitating the cross-border movement of essential goods and medical supplies,” she added.
Minister Anutin emphasized the need to leverage the transfer of technology and knowledge, and the exchange of pandemic response products to prepare Thailand and other economies for future pandemics.
“Vaccines and medical countermeasures need to be distributed equally to everyone within and across economies,” he said. “This confirms the fact that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
“Achieving these goals is not possible for one economy to do alone,” he said. “We need international collaboration, especially with everyone in this forum. By working together more closely, once we reach that level, we will be able to take on whatever may come.”
APEC Health Ministers continue their discussions on Friday to reaffirm their commitments to balancing health and the economy and to investing more in health systems and health security to make the region better prepared for future pandemics.